Shooting of Prime Minister Fuels Political Divisions in Slovakia - Latest Global News

Shooting of Prime Minister Fuels Political Divisions in Slovakia

(Bloomberg) – Robert Fico just did what he normally does, especially in a part of the country that voted for him. But minutes after the Slovak prime minister emerged from a meeting in the town of Handlova to mingle with his supporters, he was taken to hospital with gunshot wounds.

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The attempted assassination of a 71-year-old pensioner and poet has shocked the country. It also quickly put a spotlight on the inflammatory politics that have become so rampant in Europe since the coronavirus pandemic, and are amplified by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Russia-friendly Fico, 59, returned to power last year with promises including an increase in government handouts and a halt to arms sales to Ukraine. Like nationalist Hungarian ally Viktor Orban next door, he sought to exploit disagreements over LGBTQ rights, gender issues and immigrants – and portray the European Union and NGOs as enemies of the state.

This divide-and-conquer strategy has left Slovakia more polarized than ever before, 20 years after joining the European Union, and grappling with its first assassination attempt on a European leader since then.

As the prime minister was transported for surgery on Wednesday, his allies tried to blame the opposition and the “liberal” media for having blood on their hands. Andrej Danko, leader of the Slovak National Party, which governs in a coalition with Fico, vowed to “start a political war.”

I’m trying to keep emotions under control, President-elect Peter Pellegrinia Fico ally, urged politicians to consider the seriousness of the situation and urged parties to temporarily suspend their campaigns for EU elections scheduled for next month.

“Stop your campaign at least until the situation calms down and we know more about the investigation into this heinous act,” Pellegrini said on Thursday at a joint briefing in Bratislava with outgoing President Zuzana Caputova.

For her part, Caputova, who has described Fico as an “American agent,” said the assassination was an attack on Slovak democracy and called on the nation to overcome political divisions.

Read more: Who is Robert Fico, the Slovak Prime Minister who was shot?: QuickTake

Fico was shot multiple times as he made his way to meet people in Handlova after his cabinet held a meeting at the city’s cultural center. He was taken to a local facility for initial treatment and then to a hospital in the nearby town of Banska Bystrica. The prime minister was in intensive care after undergoing a five-hour operation to treat “multiple” gunshot wounds.

“His condition has stabilized for now,” Defense Secretary Robert Kalinak told broadcasters on Thursday. “Unfortunately, given the complexity of the wounds, the condition remains very serious, but we all want to be confident that we will manage the situation.”

It was the first such incident in Europe since Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was shot dead in Belgrade in 2003. It also commemorated the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, who was shot in Stockholm in 1986.

The attack on Fico is an “insurmountable scar that will haunt us for many years,” Kalinak, one of the prime minister’s closest friends and allies in decades, said on Wednesday.

The shooting shocked Slovakia, a country of 5.4 million people, especially because it took place in Handlova, a stronghold of Fico and his Smer party. She received 33% of the vote in the September 30 election, almost twice as much as her nearest rival.

The mining town of 16,000 has suffered economically from the changes that followed the end of communism in 1989 and the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia a few years later. Over the years, voters have embraced Fico’s simple, populist and worker-oriented rhetoric.

But he also made enemies. Interior Minister Matus Sutaj-Estok said the attack was politically motivated. The shooter was identified as Juraj C. from the Slovakian city of Levice and police also believe he had a “clear” political motive.

The shooter waited for Fico to arrive after the government meeting. “Robo, come here,” he shouted, according to local media reports, calling the prime minister by the colloquial form of his first name. Then he shot.

While such an attack on a politician is unprecedented in Slovakia, high-profile gun violence has occurred in the country before – and relatively recently. Fico was overthrown following the gang-style murder of an investigative journalist reporting on corruption and his fiancée in 2018.

Political comeback

Still, he reinvented himself and rebuilt his popularity by becoming the anti-voice on contentious issues such as Covid-19 vaccines and the EU’s migration policy. His stance toward Ukraine further polarized Slovakia and brought the country into conflict with Western partners.

Some 41% of Slovaks believe that Russia is not the aggressor, while people are increasingly resorting to conspiracy theories. Moscow’s propaganda is in full swing as diplomats based in Bratislava strongly denounce Fico’s party for repeatedly spreading misinformation about the Russian invasion.

Since returning to power, Fico criticized the country’s media for criticizing the government and boycotted media outlets he viewed as “hostile.” His government tightened controls on public television and radio, an Orban-style move that was rebuked by the EU.

Deputy Speaker of the Slovak Parliament Peter Ziga said the attack on Fico was the result of “heated passions and the division of Slovak society into two irreconcilable camps.”

In fact, Fico also spoke of Slovakia’s deep divisions after last month’s presidential election in which his ally became head of state. He even spoke of a possible attack on a government official. Less than a month later, he was fighting for his life.

– With support from Krystof Chamonikolas.

(Updates with incoming and outgoing President’s comments in sixth through eighth paragraphs.)

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